"help me help you"

Wildcat Guy occasionally asks me if a particular comment or action is meant to be a hint - as in, am I saying what I say to drop a hint about something I want him to do or know? And my answer is always no. If I have a suggestion or request, I am going to ask politely and directly...mostly because I don't see the point of beating around the bush or hiding my real intention behind vague or misleading comments. In my experience, that type of passive-aggressive behavior leads to too many misunderstandings, problems and frustrations...especially because I don't always pick up on hints myself. As I've explained to Wildcat Guy, subtlety can be lost on me.

I was reminded of this while preparing my mat area at a yoga workshop this morning. I was one of the first students to arrive, so I had my pick of spots in which to lay my mat. Because of the layout of the room and the location of the space heaters, I chose a spot toward the back left corner that (I thought) left plenty of room in front of me for two additional people. As others arrived, and as I settled into my pre-practice quiet, a fellow student (who had just placed her mat and accessories in front of the person who was in front of me) approached me and asked if I had seen the "space" behind me - i.e. the few feet of empty space between the edge of my mat and where the classroom area ended. I responded that I had, but that I'd been trying to line my mat with the mat of another student at the back of the room. What ensued was a confusing exchange that included her commenting that she'd wanted to make sure I'd seen the space behind me...me asking her if she'd like me to move my mat back to fill in that space and create a larger space for people in front of me...her commenting that she wasn't asking me to move, just wanting me to be aware of that space, since she recognizes that everyone thinks differently about organizing space...me mentioning that, if she'd like me to move back, I could...her commenting that it wasn't her place to ask me to move back, since she wasn't the instructor, but she just wanted me to see that space, since she's interested in figuring out how different people think about space...and me finally saying (for lack of any other response), "yes, I did see that space."

As she walked away, I have to admit - I was confused. I remember thinking, "what just happened?" I felt like I had done something wrong, even though I had tried to be thoughtful and particular about where I'd laid my mat. I even glanced around the room to see just how out of whack my mat placement might be. Then I heard her say to herself, "Some people just need to be told what to do." Huh? Ohhhh.

One online source defines passive-aggressive behavior in part as "ambiguity or speaking cryptically: a means of creating a feeling of insecurity in others." So even though I didn't appreciate having the start of the class tainted by this frustrating conversation, it was a good reminder that everyone handles conflict differently. Some people are okay asking questions directly. But for whatever reason, this woman wasn't comfortable asking or didn't want to ask, "would you mind sliding your mat back a few feet, so there's a little more space at the front of the room?" In her mind, it felt more appropriate to ask me if I'd seen the space, and to make reference to her "interest in how other people organize space," in hopes that I'd understand what she meant by all of that. And even though I did eventually realize that me moving my mat back a few feet was exactly what she wanted (even if she claimed otherwise), my realization didn't happen in a timely manner that allowed us to reach a mutually-agreeable solution, nor did it happen in a way that fostered positive interpersonal communication. Both of which seem so counterproductive to the very principles of yoga we were there to practice.

Grr. Why can't people just "say what they mean, and mean what they say"??

Where I am: home
What I'm reading: the March issue of Skirt! and the March issue of Smithsonian


jhansen said…
Wow, that was totally passive-aggressive especially after you asked her pointedly if she wanted you to move. While I agree being passive-aggressive in some situations work, this wasn't one of them. I think I would have been confused too especially when she went off on a tangent about thinking about space differently, etc. I think there are a lot of nice ways to be direct but some people don't have the tact for it. She could have simply introduced herself and asked if you minded moving your mat back since there was some additional space behind you. All of this is the art of communication and conversation. I do agree that it is easier if people just said what they needed to say instead of beating around the bush.
Lee said…
Thanks for the supportive feedback! I think what frustrated me the most was how it disrupted my mood that morning. I was feeling relaxed, peaceful, ready for yoga...and then that happened. I took it as the yoga universe's little joke and challenge. =)

Popular Posts